Mar 5, 2018
New Kind of Coach

As a way to lower risks and decrease injuries in all sports, Rutherford County (Tenn.) Schools have introduced safety coaches to their athletic programs this year. Above, Greg Wyant, safety coach for football and strength/conditioning, talks with an assistant girls’ basketball coach in the Siegel High School weightroom.

Athletic trainers at Rutherford County (Tenn.) Schools got a helping hand in keeping athletes healthy last summer, when the district hired five “safety coaches” for its athletic programs. The safety coaches’ job is to mentor sport coaches, especially those new to the profession, in the areas of risk management and injury prevention.

“The idea came from the safety coaches that USA Football has started certifying,” says Tim Tackett, District Athletic Director for Rutherford, which includes 12 middle schools and nine high schools in and around Murfreesboro. “In USA Football, their main goals are to make sure that helmets and shoulders pads are properly fitted and used, fields are maintained, and drills are being taught in a safe manner. I liked the concept and thought it was something we could expand to other sports in our program.”

Rutherford’s safety coaches are all former veteran sport coaches who serve as teachers or administrators in the district. Each is responsible for two or three sports and receives a coaching stipend, with the cost funded by the school district.

Their charge is to make sure sport coaches understand and follow safety policies and procedures. They do this primarily by visiting team practices, where they observe and talk to coaches.

The visits have had the greatest impact at the middle level school where coaches are typically less experienced and there are no athletic trainers. “We only have athletic trainers assigned to our high schools,” Tackett says. “We’re planning to re-evaluate our sports medicine program for next year so we can hopefully do a better job of getting athletic trainers in the middle schools.”

The safety coaches are also tasked with staying up-to-date on the latest guidelines. They each completed online classes on sport safety and sport-specific training before they assumed their roles, and they disseminate this information to the coaches in their sports.

“One of the first things they do is make sure every team has an emergency plan in place and the coaches know how to execute it,” Tackett says. “They go over some sport-specific issues, too, such as updates in training techniques. For example, in football, they will explain how often players need water breaks.”

In implementing the program, Tackett has been careful to make sure safety coaches are seen as a resource, not as a watchdog. “The goal is not to play ‘gotcha’ and catch someone doing something wrong,” he says. “It’s to help make the coaches’ jobs easier and their athletes safer.”

The safety coaches have also initiated advances in the district’s strength and conditioning and preseason training. In January, they put together a clinic on these topics for sport coaches, after noticing many of them needed more education in these areas. Strength and conditioning coaches from nearby colleges shared their advice, and the event was well-received.

Overall, Tackett feels the program is working well, but he is eyeing a few changes for next year. “We greatly underestimated how much time it would take for the safety coaches to get out to the schools,” he says. “So next year, we’re either going to increase how many safety coaches we have or cut down the number of sports we cover. Hopefully, we’ll be able to expand because the five safety coaches we started with are great people who have helped a lot of coaches in many different ways.”

This article appeared in the March 2018 issue of Training & Conditioning.

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